The Montgomery County judge who presided over Bill Cosby's trial said Tuesday he was conflicted over whether to release the names of jurors who convicted the entertainer, even as he acknowledged that he is "constrained under the law" to do so.
In a hearing on a petition by media organizations — including the Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com — Judge Steven T. O'Neill said he was still weighing how to balance jurors' privacy rights against the presumption that their names are public information. He did not indicate when or how he might rule.
"The court is constrained under the law to release those names," O'Neill said. "But I'm not constrained from at least trying to stand in the shoes of those jurors and [consider] what they feel and their desire to return to their lives and their families."
The hearing came a day after the jury forewoman issued a statement on behalf of the full panel of seven men and five women that last week found Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand.
The statement included no names. But in it, the forewoman sought to dispel any suggestion that their verdict was influenced by Cosby's celebrity, media attention the case had received, or the wider #MeToo movement that erupted since Cosby's first trial, which ended in a hung jury in June.
The statement asked for privacy for the jurors and did not say how many had a hand in writing it. Even so, one juror – Harrison Snyder, 22, of Gilbertsville – chose to speak out publicly on his own to Good Morning America on Monday.
O'Neill seized upon those statements at the hearing Tuesday, demanding to know why the names needed to be released now if at least some members of the panel already had spoken. All of them, the judge asserted, had reported to him that they have been incessantly pestered by reporters since the trial's end.
"Each and every one of them have either had the media or the press on their front lawns, constantly harassing them or calling them up," the judge said.
When Paul J. Safier, a lawyer for the media organizations, argued that courts largely had withheld names only in cases in which jurors' lives might be in danger — such as after a case involving an organized criminal gang — O'Neill shot back, comparing the media presence to a life-endangering situation.
The jurors "have expressed that they feel that same level of intimidation – when people are on their lawns and won't stop calling them."
Pennsylvania law considers the identities of jurors to be public information but grants judges discretion to keep them under wraps in certain situations.
O'Neill had sealed the names immediately after jury selection last month in Norristown, citing the media scrutiny of the case.
The judge did the same after Cosby's first trial last year but ultimately released the identities of the jurors in the case after a similar request from many of the same media organizations, about a dozen, represented in court again Tuesday.
"Our justice system works on openness and transparency," lawyer Eli Segal of Pepper Hamilton LLP, who represented some of the news organizations, told the judge. "Justice functions better when out in the open. People can be confident that what happened was fair."
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